Robert S. Lynd, one of the founding fathers of modern American sociology and co-author, with his wife, Helen Merrell Lynd, of “Middletown” and “Middletown in transition,” died Sunday in Warren, Conn., after a long illness. He was 78 years old and lived at 560 Riverside Drive here.
Dr. Lynd leaves his wife, who taught for many years at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York; a son, Staughton, a historian; a daughter, Andrea, who is Mrs. Joseph Nold; a sister, Mrs. B. W. Hardly; and five grandchildren.
Dr. Lynd, who was Giddings Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Columbia, retired in 1960 after almost 30 years on the Morningside Heights campus. The significance of Dr. Lynd, according to Stanley Davis, professor of sociology at the Harvard School of Business Administration, was his two books were “one of the first tries to get a complete understanding of a total American community, describing how people lived, how they made a living, how they trained ‘their young.”
Both “Middletown,” which came out in 1929, and “Middle town in Transition,” in 1937, have become classics and recommended reading in many universities. An exception, however, is Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., the city that was the Lynds’ Middletown. Dr. Lynd selected Muncie for his masterwork because he regarded it “as representative as possible of contemporary American life.” A small team of investigators combed through the city asking questions about how the residents earned a living, used their leisure and engaged in religious practices and community activities. The aim was to describe behavior, not to moralize about it, and to cite changes over 35 years.
The first major profile of an American city, “Middletown” documented such aspects of Muncie life as that families seldom got together; that young people astounded and worried their elders; that in business and social life the man who concealed his thoughts got along best; that moneymaking and money spending were measures of quality; that a healthy adult male who did not work lost caste, and that the social system was rigid and based largely on estimated income.
A commentator at the time remarked that “Middletown” gave statistical support to H. L. Mencken’s and Sinclair Lewis’s derogatory views of a Middle America with an ingrown ruling élite unpossessed of vision and imagination. Muncie itself thought “Middletown” unflattering when the book was published in the midst of the Depression, and the Lynds found growing tension among different economic levels, with the finding that the sources of information open to citizens were largely in the hands of the small economic group in control of the community.
PBS did a special on them. You can learn about it here.
Dr. Lynd brought to his study of Muncie a background as a small-town boy. The son of Staughton and Cornelia Day Lynd, Robert Staughton Lynd was born in New Albany, Ind., on Sept. 26, 1892. After graduation from. Princeton in 1914, he was managing editor of Publishers’ Weekly for four years. Following a year in the Field Artillery in World War I, he worked briefly for Charles Scribner’s Sons, the publishers, and on the staff of The Freeman magazine.
He gave up magazine work, however, to join the ministry after receiving a divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in 1923 and was a missionary preacher for a while at Wolf Basin in the oilfields of Montana, and then he directed the Small City Study of the Institute for Social and religious Research.
Dr. Lynd returned to the academic world on the completion of “Middletown,” taking his doctorate at Columbia in 1931. After the “Middletown” books, he gave his attention to questions about the morality of the social sciences and produced “Knowledge for What” in 1939. You can browse the Lynds’ papers here at Kent State University.
Dr. Lynd’s ascendant is 24 Virgo, Mary and her white lamb, a symbol of self-adequacy in the world as he cherishes nascent ideas. the keyword is “artlessness” whereby the individual makes his contact with others worthwhile for himself.
Virgo is ruled by Mercury that is contact his ascendant showing that Lynd had a very analytical and scientific mindset. Also there, partile to Mercury is the asteroid Durkheim named for the French Socialist Emile Durkheim, who is considered the father of sociology or the study of people in social groups versus Freud’s study of the individual (psychology).
That conjunction was propitious for Lynd as he became a major proponent of Durkheim’s theories in the United States from his seat at Columbia University, New York, New York. Like Durkheim, Lynd was a functionalist, someone who studied the glue that holds society together. Like Oscar Wilde, who also had one, Lynd’s interest in sociology was a natural outgrowth from his religious inclination and his very extroverted nature but OTOH, grand sextiles tend to scatter their energies about, thus the collaboration with his wife, Helen was quite fortunate, as she probably focused his talents as she appears in his chart as Eros conjunct his Mars and then sextile, of course, Amor and again as Neptune, both the muse and dutiful helper in Aries in the seventh house.
His Neptune square Jupiter in the eleventh, Lynd was high strung and intense person and Jupiter conjunct Uranus added to this, making him a restless person which probably put stress on his own marriage and explains his early career in the oil fields of Montana.